Feast of Pentecost

FROM TODAY TO PASCHA NEXT YEAR, practically every church service and formal prayer in our tradition will begin with the invocation, “O Heavenly King.” The presence of the Holy Spirit, whom the first Christians received on Pentecost, is called upon whenever we pray – whenever we do anything as Church – because the Spirit is the “soul” of the Body of Christ. The Spirit is the “living water” promised by Christ to refresh and enliven believers as we live our lives in service to the Lord.

In the Gospel of St John, we see Christ saying, as His passion was about to begin, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclete to be with you always: the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, since it neither sees Him nor recognizes Him…” (John 14:16, 17). In this promise the Spirit is called by another image. The Greek word paraklitos meant a helper or an advocate, specifically someone who could guide you through the maze of the Roman legal system. This word is sometimes translated as comforter or consoler, a specific type of helper leading the believer along the path of this life. This image appears in the prayer mentioned above: O heavenly King, Paraclete, Spirit of truth…”

The Spirit is portrayed as ‘another Paraclete,” implying that there was a first one whom we know. That Paraclete is the Lord Jesus, who was the guide and advocate of His followers on earth and is our advocate before the throne of the heavenly Father. Because Christ was incarnate (made man), His earthly presence was limited. As a man, He lived in a certain place, in a specific time, and His earthly life came to an end. The Holy Spirit, however, is not incarnate. His presence is spiritual and so is not bound by those earthly limitations. He is, as the prayer we have been quoting says, “present in all places and filling all things.”

From the beginning, God’s plan was to dwell with His creation forever. This goal was frustrated, but not defeated, by the Fall. The incarnation of His Son was God’s response to His creation’s broken state. The Son of God becomes man so that humanity can be divinized. As St Athanasius the Great is to have said, “God became man so that we might receive the Holy Spirit.” Now, with the coming of this Spirit-Paraclete, that plan has been fulfilled, insofar as is possible in this life.

Our experience of the Holy Spirit is not the end of the story, however. The Spirit, says St Paul, “…is the pledge of our inheritance, the first payment against the full redemption of a people God has made His own, to praise His glory” (Ephesians 1:14).The Holy Spirit, as we experience Him now, is merely a down-payment of the experience of God that we are meant to have in the future.

How Does the Spirit Enliven Us?

When the first believers received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there were some dramatic results: where before they were afraid, they now preached Christ boldly. They spoke in tongues, they healed the sick, they gave their lives rather than deny Christ. But the Spirit also worked in individual believers – and still works –in less spectacular but equally remarkable ways. The Scriptures indicate several ways in which the Spirit of God activates our Christian life by His presence:

Our Ability to Believe – “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Our Ability to Pray – “The Spirit too helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning that cannot be expressed in speech” (Romans 8:26).

Our Confidence in God’s Love – “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God… The Spirit Himself gives witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:14-16).

The Growth of Our Inner Selves – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity” (Galatians 5:23).

Our Ability to Serve in the Church – “There are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one, the Spirit gives wisdom in discourse, to another, the power to express knowledge. Through the Spirit one receives extraordinary faith; by the same Spirit, another is given the gift of healing; and still another, miraculous powers. Prophecy is given to one; to another, power to distinguish one spirit from another. One receives the gift of tongues, another, that of interpreting the tongues. But it is one and the same Spirit who produces all these gifts, distributing them to each as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

When we were chrismated at our baptism, we were anointed with the anointing of Christ, becoming sharers in His royal priesthood. As Jesus is the Christ (the Anointed One), because He is penetrated by the Spirit of God, we too become other christs – other anointed ones – when we are chrismated. We believe that we received the gift of the Holy Spirit then, as the Fathers teach. St Cyril of Jerusalem, for example, insists, “See that you do not mistake the chrism for mere ointment. For, just as the Eucharistic Bread is not ordinary bread after the invocation of the Holy Spirit, so also this holy chrism is now longer simple ointment after the invocation, but the gift of Christ, bringing about the presence of the Holy Spirit by a divine operation” (Mystagogic Catechesis, 3,3).

Nevertheless, as the years go by, we must still ask ourselves if and to what degree this relationship with the Holy Spirit has become a conscious focus in our life, for it is possible to have received this gift of the Holy Spirit and never to have truly realized the greatness of that gift, or to have lived in His light. Thus St Simeon the New Theologian maintains that the greatest misfortune which can befall us as Christians is not to know consciously that God is truly living within us. Many believers, he asserts, “say they have the Spirit of God, without experiencing Him, and believe that they possess the Spirit within them from Holy Baptism and will argue that they have this treasure, knowing that in reality they are utterly devoid of the Spirit.” In fact, he says, they do not know what it means to have this gift. Simeon compares the believer who has been filled with the Spirit to a woman pregnant with a child. Both must surely be aware of what has taken place within them.

Like many of the Fathers, St Simeon recognizes that the gift of the Spirit is given when we are christened, but also that we must develop a conscious awareness of the Spirit’s presence in our own life.

Those who truly radiate the life of the Spirit are those who are deeply aware of His inner presence. It is for each of us to pray regularly that our hearts be open to the presence of the Spirit, that we be receptive to His guidance, and that we be moved to act in accordance with His leading.

O Master, who at the third hour bestowed Your Holy Spirit upon Your disciples: take Him not away from us but renew Him in us, we pray.
-Troparion at the Third Hour